We Weren’t Having Sex, But I Was Still Getting Screwed

For months after Julie and I broke up, we chose to remain friends.

Yes, it was a mutual decision.

No, really.

Stop rolling your eyes.

This is not another rant about being stuck in the Friend Zone.

We still cared about each other, and we still enjoyed each other’s company. We just realized that, romantically, we weren’t all that compatible. We were like peanut butter and bacon: You love ‘em both. Just not together.

We continued to hang out fairly regularly, though. In fact, we joked that we were kind of/sort of still going on dates. Except that they didn’t end in anything physical….

Wait.

Okay, yes. They were exactly like many dates I’ve been on.

I was fine with that. We both knew that muddling the boundaries we’d established wouldn’t be a good idea. So, we continued our platonic dates, going out to dinner, chatting about what was going on at home and at work, slipping into deeper conversations about our lives… our hopes… our fears….

That’s when I had an epiphany.

I was totally getting screwed in this arrangement.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that the hormone oxytocin is responsible for feelings of attachment in women. Most notably, oxytocin is released when a woman orgasms. This explains why women have a more difficult time having casual sex. When they orgasm, their brains release oxytocin, which reinforces their emotional attachment to the man they’re with.

So, it’s not that women don’t want to have casual sex, or that they don’t like casual sex. It’s just that women often have a difficult time keeping it casual.

It's those oxytocin-laced arrows

In contrast, not as much is known about male attachment. Recent studies have implicated the hormone vasopressin as the hairier, burlier, ball-bearing counterpart to oxytocin’s feminine mystique. Studies on both animals and humans have demonstrated that vasopressin does indeed stimulate feelings of attachment in males. Furthermore, this attachment can be initiated in the absence of sexual activity. Still, scientists don’t know when exactly vasopressin is released.

Based on my own personal experiences, I’m venturing a guess:

It’s not during sexual intimacy, but during emotional intimacy.

Men are generally not as communicative as women (which, admittedly, is about as deep a revelation as saying, “men generally have more dangly parts than women”).

Men

While some argue that this is a socially conditioned behavior (that men close themselves off emotionally because, as boys, they are taught to not show vulnerability), the end result is still the same: Men have emotions. Men just aren’t as expressive with them. And, in fact, when the male brain is stressed, it becomes even less expressive.

Add to this the likelihood that men have fewer same-sex friends they can converse with in the same way, bolster with the finding that men suffer more from breakups than women, and I’d argue that confiding in one’s partner requires a much greater emotional investment for a man than for a woman, and that this added investment translates to attachment.

Basically, it’s harder for men to be verbally intimate. They also have fewer people to be verbally intimate with. Thus, when they do learn to be verbally intimate with their significant others, they are much more likely to develop an emotional attachment to them.

Without a doubt, the women I’ve been close to over the years have gotten me to open up. To this day, Julie still knows more personal details about me than just about anyone else. And when I finally get comfortable enough with someone that I’m willing to share my innermost feelings… well, I don’t particularly want to replace her. I mean, it took a long time to get myself there. Why would I want to start over with someone new?

Uh oh. Doesn’t that sound a little bit like attachment?

Months after our breakup, we were still meeting up regularly. And I often found myself talking to her about personal matters: how my family was doing, my secret goals and dreams, what was stressing me out about life, and so on. Julie, of course, always listened.

As it turns out, that was the problem.

All this time we were spending together—platonic as it may have been—was only increasing my attachment to her. Every night that we had one of our long talks, I caught myself reminiscing about our time together…. Second-guessing our decision to break up…. Wondering what it would be like if we were back together….

Breaking out the Julie and Dennis dolls....

Even worse, I could tell that her attachment to me was fading. From the way she looked at me and the way she spoke to me, I could sense her mushy feelings just withering away. That made sense. After all, the intimate conversations simply weren’t as big an emotional investment for her as they were for me. Plus, we weren’t having sex, so there wasn’t any orgasm oxytocin to mess her up.

But, man, was there a raging cocktail party of hormones swirling up inside my head. I could practically feel the vasopressin (or, admittedly, whatever other factors might be responsible for these feelings of attachment) permeating my brain cells.

So, I got the ole’ emotional screwing. By biology.

"Bend over"

And what it took for me to finally break that attachment was to stop engaging her in these conversations.

We continued to see each other. We still chatted. We still laughed. But, I forced myself not to reveal too much about my personal feelings. It wasn’t easy. I constantly found myself wanting to tell her… stuff. Stuff that I was used to telling her.

But, I held back. I found other friends to talk to, whether online or in real life. I found blogging. I met others who were getting over similar breakups.

And, I finally got over her.

So, maybe that’s how it really works:

Women get over their exes by not having sex with them. Because sex involves those creepy love hormones for women.

And men get over their exes by not talking intimately with them. Because talking involves those creepy love hormones for men.

Remember that old joke about how many men it takes to screw in a light bulb? Good.

Remember that old saying about skinning cats? Good.

Well, I’m creating my own personal mash-up of the two:

There’s more than one way to screw a man.



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By day, I engineer happiness at WordPress.com. By night, I am a relationships and comedy writer, which can be redundant or an oxymoron, depending on your perspective. I am the creator of Musings, the blog you're reading right now, and LemonVibe, an anonymous relationship advice site. You can also find me on Twitter (I am not the creator of Twitter).

44 thoughts on “We Weren’t Having Sex, But I Was Still Getting Screwed

  1. What a fantastic post. Very interesting to think about the different ways guys and girls form intimacy. I wonder why they haven’t studied that attachment hormone in men so much?

  2. Do you think she realizes all of this as well? Or is she kind of delightfully oblivious to how you see the friendship? I have been friends with ex’s in the past and found that it (obviously) didn’t work out because at one point in time or the other, one of us still had feelings. I wonder if she is also questioning the breakup, and taking things slow as in friendship first? Just curious.

    • Please, disregard…I jumped the gun. I’m obviously eager on this topic. IN fact, I kind of wrote about it on my blog today. Frustrating. GRRR!

  3. Okay, now that I have calmed down and read the entire post…I think I have to disagree. Women often feel attached to men way before having sex with them and remain attached even when no one is having sex. And a lot of women definitely hang on to fellas for the same reason you laid out here — because it took a long time to get that intimate.

    In fact, in my experience, with women relationships are like politics — the incumbent always has an advantage.

    Women may reach a certain level of emotional intimacy that is deeper than men in many relationships, but I would argue that that level is not as deep as the levels a woman reaches while in a romantic relationship. I think men and women are in the same boat on this one.

    • “Women often feel attached to men way before having sex with them”
      Well that’s an understatement.

      But in all seriousness, isn’t sleeping with a dude still a big deal for most girls? I’ve talked with plenty of female friends who were either 1)upset that they slept with the guy they’d been seeing because he turned out to be a jerk, or 2)relieved that they didn’t sleep with him. I’ve never heard them complain that they “got attached”, nor have I heard them express relief that they “didn’t get attached.” Of course a girl can feel attached to a guy before she fucks him, but she will feel quite a bit more attached to him after the fact.

      (PS- Bonus points for you because you made “incumbent” sound like a naughty word. Respect.)

    • Yes, there are lots of different forms of attachment, and yes, women can get attached without sex, too. But that wasn’t the point here.

      The comparison I was trying to draw was how the same behavior can be more likely to cause attachment in one sex and not the other. This is definitely true of sex, and I contend that it can also be true of intimate conversation.

  4. I with you, Crystal: just because a woman stops sleeping with a man doesn’t mean that she’s automatically over him. (Although I don’t think this was your point, Dennis; I think you were just trying to give some insight into the male perspective with some actual science thrown in– well done!)

  5. A woman no longer sleeping with a man doesn’t make her “automatically” get over him, but it certainly helps the process. Just like Dennis no longer revealing his innermost thoughts to his ex helped him get over her.

    I have to say, you’re making a huge jump associating the release of vasopressin with expressing yourself emotionally, but as usual, I love how you tie in the science with the relationship stuff. And it seems you might be on to something. ;)

    It’s too bad about these “creepy love hormones”… If not for them, we could all just have lots of fun casual sex with people we find physically attractive and fantastic, mind-opening conversations with people we find emotionally attractive and the world would be a happy place.

    Nicely done!

    • Yes, I admit that I’m making a jump. But, honestly, I don’t think it’s that far a leap.

      I didn’t want to get into this in too much detail, because I didn’t want to get too mired in the science, but if you check out the animal study link I provided, they did an experiment on voles where they artificially modified the vasopressin receptors in males. Males who got a vasopressin boost showed signs of preference for specific females after spending only a few hours in their presence, without any sexual activity whatsoever.

      Thus, at least in animals, male attachment can indeed occur in the absence of sexual activity. So, that’s why I don’t think my theory is as big a leap as people may believe.

    • I am a woman and I have had lots of fun casual sex with attractive and fantastic people without ever feeling “attached” to them. In my own personal experience, I feel a much stronger attachment having thought-provoking emotional conversations with someone than having sex with them, even repeatedly. But this is simply speaking from experience.

      Also, assuming that “women” are all having sex with “men” is heterosexist ;)

  6. “When I finally get comfortable enough with someone that I’m willing to share my innermost feelings… well, I don’t particularly want to replace her.”

    THIS is all I need to do?? Why has no-one told me this before?! I’ve been busy making them laugh and making them cookies and making them feel all manly and making sure they have a marvellous time in the sack, when all I needed to do was get them telling me their inner hopes and fears and I’ll finally get one to stick around??

    *strokes white cat contemplatively while hatching a cunning plan*

    Loved the post!

    • You’re not that far off Annie. If women would listen a bit more and judge what is said a bit less, men would love you for it. We like to be heard too, seriously. But the cookies and marvelous time in the sack won’t hurt. :0)

  7. It’s funny how I now miss something I didn’t even know I had. Oxytocin, how you elude me.

    Sounds as though you made the right decision with Julie, as difficult as it may have been at the time. You deserve to have those oxy-laced feelings for someone who is strung out on oxy for you, too.

    • Thanks, J. Yeah, I know it’s the right decision. But, that sure doesn’t make it much easier.

      As for you, I’m sure you have oxytocin. It’s that weird feeling you get when you’re hanging out with your cats. ;-)

  8. As always Dennis, a great blog post. So true in my opinion. If I had as much sex as I did intimate, emotional conversations I may have to quit my full time job to keep up. It may also explain the countless men who by most accounts should have moved on yet still seem highly attached.

    • Thanks! I’ve been keeping up with your blog, and I’m thinking… you know, if you really do have a problem with guys getting attached with you, maybe you should just sleep with all of them.

      Just sayin’…. ;-)

  9. You’re obviously an idiot. I love how you just straight up lied about the facts pertaining to oxytocin to illustrate your own bias. How about some references to prove oxytocin only effects women? Newsflash: It doesn’t. We all have oxytocin and it promotes stronger bonds with monogamous couples through touch(including sex) not JUST women. This isn’t even cherry picking, it’s just editting the facts to lie.

    Here is a website with a list of credible sources and actual facts:
    http://www.oxytocin.org/oxytoc/

    Get them straight before you spew sexist bullshit tripe to feed your embittered floppy weiner.

    • You obviously have trouble reading. I’ll throw in that you also have severe communication skills, as well as that you jump to conclusions before being completely informed.

      First, there is nothing sexist in this entire blog. He also never said that oxytocin is _only_ present in women, nor did he say that it _only_ *affects women. While present in both, oxytocin has somewhat different effects on each sex, though still being linked to promoting bonding in both to at least an extent. Whether you like it or not, there has not been nearly as much research into the effects of oxytocin on males, but what research has been done has shown that its effect on bonding is not as strong. As Dennis correctly stated in this blog, research has shown that vasopressin has a greater effect on bonding than oxytocin in males. Get your facts straight before creating such a belligerent post next time.

      To clarify, this poster is not feminist — a gross and common misuse of the term. Feminists can be of either sex and fight to define, establish and defend gender equality in political, social and economic rights. The correct phrase would be that this poster is anti-male.

    • @Science

      What a marvellously humourless reply! Hopefully that little stomp has made you feel much better – or at least as good as you’ve made us feel for treating us to the entertainment of your hissy fit.

      PS: Delighted by the spelling error of “editting” – it so wonderfully takes the puff out of your vitriol! Oh, and pet, the correct spelling is “wiener” – http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wiener. Do try to keep up.

  10. This was a nice post. I disagree with the way you used the science, but you don’t need a biological explanation to explain what you were feeling. Sharing intimate feelings increases attachment for everyone, sex or no sex (that’s how you have a “bromance”). When your relationship ended, you were still sharing intimately because she was your best friend, while she probably had some other friend that she could tell the things she once told you (it is true that women have more close friends than men). She was switching her attachment, and you weren’t. You say you could even tell by the way she looked and talked to you. Same result, in any case, so congrats on getting over her!

  11. I really like this article! I have to say thought that I’ve experienced this with men before that I have never slept with. Or if I do experience a close emotional connection with someone, I’m definitely more likely to want to sleep with them (if not in friend zone, ahem). It really does suck though when you’re still feeling that attachment and they are not. Emotions and chemicals are a funny thing. No wonder oxycontin is such an addictive drug!

  12. Pingback: To Be Strong Is To Show Our Weakness | Musings on Life and Love

  13. 1st time reader, 1st time commenter.Great post.
    Oxytoxin or not, I think the intimate communication stuff works both ways.. but like you mentioned in the post, women generally finds it easier to share their emotions with their girlfriends and other guys who are “lending a ear”, as opposed to guys who will probably be labelled a f*g for being too emotional.

    In my less open-minded Asian culture(in Asia), sex plays a much less important role in keeping the relationship strong, rather, special and important moments experienced together will make both gender more in love with each other.

    Will keep reading your blog.

  14. Great post I wish I had read it about a year ago lol. I had to go thru a nasty friend break up before I learned what you just wrote about but I had to do it hard way with lots of drinking and many depressed nights.

  15. Sir Hong, I just discovered your blog today and I can’t stop reading all of your posts! This exact same thing happened to me, I couldn’t stop talking to my ex about personal things, and I began to second guess myself on breaking up too. She ended up hating me for it and refused to talk to me, which hurt at first because I had no one to talk to – I was used to telling HER about all of my problems. But it turned out that her refusing to talk to me was the best thing that could have happened because I was finally able to get over her by not talking to her. Anyways great post, you are full of insight.

  16. First time commenter here. -waves- Found your blog through a link from a friend on Facebook.

    But I’m gonna disagree a teeny tiny bit here with your article. Maybe this was just my experience with a first time serious boyfriend and all, but for us, and my vow to stay pure until marriage, it was talking to my ex constantly after our break up that made me miss him more, and him distance himself further. Maybe it was because we were High School kids, lost in the muddle of hormone-raging skin bags, but to this day I get a greater attachment emotionally to a man by having intimate conversations than engaging in physical contact.

    • Hello! Thanks for your comment. :-)

      Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to love. That’s one thing we stress here at Musings. That’s why we focus on personal stories, instead of how-to articles and whatnot. I don’t expect what happened with me to be the case for everyone out there.

      At the same time, since this is your first love that you’re talking about, I think that right there explains why he was so difficult to get over. The first love is always the hardest to move on from, ya know?

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